Diego, Camila and Rosa Solano in their El Paso home, talking with Armando in China. (Photo courtesy of the Solano family)
By Viridiana Solano/Univision 26

Many family activities and traditions changed with the arrival of the COVID-19 pandemic. Such is the case of the Solano family, who gathers every Sunday in front of the computer to enjoy Mass as a family. The family is united in love, but separated by thousands of miles.

Armando Solano of El Paso was hired five years ago to work at a high-tech company with offices in China. By January of 2020, the Solano family – Armando, his wife Rosa and children Diego and Camila — was living in Schenzen, approximately 680 miles from Wuhan, the epicenter for the COVID-19 pandemic at that time.

“At that time, many families started to leave China out of concern because at the time we didn’t know how serious the situation was; the news was very alarming. We were not the only family that got separated. Businesses were closed and classes got cancelled,” Armando Solano said.

Armando Solano speaks from China to his family in El Paso. (Photo courtesy of the Solano family)

Rosa and the two children decided to leave China before the United States closed its borders. They feared that in case of a medical emergency, they would not receive the proper medical attention in China since they were foreigners. They returned to El Paso and Armando stayed in China.

They thought the family would reunite in China once that country got the virus under control. They didn’t know COVID-19 would soon become a global pandemic.

“We felt safer by being in the United States in case we contracted something. Thank God, after more than a year, no one has been infected with the virus. When we arrived from China, the children and I were quarantined for three weeks,” Rosa Solano said.

The separation weighed on the Solano family.

“I really felt like I had left half of my soul there, I felt bad that we came, and something could happen to him since the virus was really bad over there,” Rosa Solano said.

As the months went by, the Solanos had to make decisions because of the separation. One was to buy a home in El Paso to provide a proper space and housing for their children. And the second involved the children’s education. To the parent’s surprise, the 15- and 11-year-olds made a request.

“We wanted to stay here (in El Paso) and attend our school in China. We thought that when we came back it would be different, since schools here are quite different from China,” Diego Solano said.

So, in addition to the challenge of having to take virtual classes, Diego and Camila take classes from their school in China with an evening schedule.

“I start school at 8 p.m. and finish at 2:30 a m. from Sunday to Thursday,” Diego Solano said.

“I start school at 6:15 and I finish at 1 am from Thursday to Sunday,” Camilo Solano said.

The Solano family in China. (Photo courtesy of the Solano family)

The children have received recognition for high academic achievement.

“Thank God, they both received honors last semester. We are immensely proud.   We have noticed how much they have grown and matured,” Rosa Solano said.

The children say they miss their old life in China.

“I miss being there. My friends stopped posting things about what they’re doing just to not make me feel bad,” Camila Solano said.

After more than a year of being separated and with the pandemic still present, the family faces uncertainty on when they can reunite.

“It is a difficult situation since we have had this idea that the Chinese borders will reopen, but they haven’t since the virus has not been contained in other parts of the world. Specifically, the United States has not been able to control this pandemic,” Armando Solano said.

Cover photo: Diego, Camila and Rosa Solano in their El Paso home, talking with Armando in China. (Photo courtesy of the Solano family)

This story was produced as part of the Puente News Collaborative, a binational partnership of news organizations in Ciudad Juárez and El Paso.